Martin Lewis, Senior Buying and Merchandising Manager at Ableworld, believes that we need to develop better relationships in the industry and more importantly, better relationships with our customers. Here, he explains why…

By Martin Lewis, Senior Buying and Merchandising Manager at Ableworld

Martin Lewis

Two key areas that drive a successful retail business are data and relationships. The mobility sector has a lot of work to do if it is to develop a better understanding of its customer’s needs and shopping patterns.

Over the last 40 years, we have seen major changes in the way that we shop for our groceries, electrical items or DIY and gardening needs. Out of town shopping, the one-stop shop and the development of online shopping are good examples of some of the developments that have changed the way we shop. We can expect further changes in the retail landscape as customers become more sophisticated and demanding.

Good retailers are constantly looking at their sales information and customer data to acquire a detailed understanding of their customers shopping behaviour. They know what they are buying or not buying and are constantly refreshing their ranges to meet the needs of their customers.

Over the last 40 years, I have worked in the retail sectors of white goods, grocery, DIY, gardening, health, foods and sports goods. They all share one thing in common – they are all working hard to meet the needs of their customers and grow a successful retail business.

I have spent a relatively short period of my career in mobility retailing but have been surprised at the lack of market information and the under-investment in qualitative and quantitative research. I would be interested to know if anyone is running consumer groups?

Maybe there is data out there, but the relationships in the industry are so poor that we are not prepared to share it.

If anyone is in any doubt as to why most retailers operate loyalty cards, it’s so they can capture and process the data of our purchasing history. Your grocery retailer knows more about you than you do. They know where you shop and what you buy. They know how old you are, whether you have children or live alone. They know if you are diabetic, vegetarian or have any food allergies.

People have asked me what they do with all this data?

The answer is that they use it to make evidence-based decision making. They can develop customer profiling and segmentation that allows them to deliver highly targeted marketing communications that are specific to a customer’s needs. They even use the data to change the way the stores are laid out and the way the product is displayed.

Ultimately, this allows the retailer to sell you more and grow their sales.

“The Mobility customer is driven by need rather than desire. Our customers tend to be more vulnerable and we need to protect them, support them and serve them better than any other retail sector.” Martin Lewis

The data shows that cardholders shop more frequently and spend more than non-card holders. Customers are enticed into loyalty schemes by the offer of various rewards from collecting points to discount vouchers or free gifts.

But the issue isn’t about loyalty cards or discount vouchers, it’s about the value of the customer database and the rich benefits that the customer data can provide. The cost to the retailer to acquire customer data can be high, but so are the benefits. Get it right and you can grow incremental sales, get it wrong and you could lose a customer for life.

I joined Super Drug’s loyalty scheme a few years back, they then began emailing me offers on lipstick. The email was addressed to ‘Hi Martin’… which should have been a giveaway.

What does the Mobility Industry have to do to catch up?

There is a shift of focus from patients being given products by the NHS, to becoming a customer who is driven into a store by the need to buy it. They say that there is no loyalty in retailing and to some degree I accept that. Customers tend to shop for convenience or for the lowest prices. Customers turn off to what is generally referred to as ‘junk mail’, but they do respond to a tailored communication aimed at their specific needs. They want stores that offer range authority and qualified store staff that deliver a positive shopping experience.

The Mobility customer is driven by need rather than desire. Our customers tend to be more vulnerable and we need to protect them, support them and serve them better than any other retail sector.

The sales and customer data can be just as valuable in the mobility sector as in any other retail sector. Understanding the purchasing history of our customers can help us to support future customers who progress through a hierarchy of needs, depending on their age or condition.

Manufacturers, distributors and retailers need to be sharing their data and working together to develop a better understanding of the customer needs. We need to develop better relationships within the industry and more importantly, better relationships with our customers.


About Martin

Having started Life as a Packaging Designer in Bristol, Martin’s first experience of retailing marketing was with the Electricity Board in the South West. He then moved to Gateway Food Markets looking after all their new stores, defences, refits and underperforming stores, before joining Great Mills DIY which was acquired by the Focus /Wickes Group. He also managed the launch of a loyalty card for Holland and Barrett and after a short period with J J B Sport , joined Ableworld in Spring 2014.

You can contact Martin on 01270 627185 or by email at martin@ableworld.co.uk

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